Experimental hypersonic craft hits Mach 7.5

HiFiRE 5B lifting off from Woomera(Credit: Australian Department of Defence)

The Australian Department of Defence has announced the successful launch of a hypersonic aircraft called Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) 5B at the Woomera Test range. According to a statement, the craft reached a velocity of Mach 7.5 (5,710 mph, 9,188 km/h) and an altitude of 278 km (173 mi) as part of an Australian-United States program to study fundamental technologies needed to travel over five times the speed of sound.

According to the University of Queensland (UQ), HIFiRE 5B was one of 10 experimental flights intended to gain a better understanding of the physics and aerodynamics of sustained hypersonic flight, which could one day lead to travel from Sydney to London in under two hours.

Boosted by sounding rockets before being propelled to seven-and-a-half times the speed of sound by a scramjet engine, the HiFiRE craft has already shown advances in hypersonic aircraft design, assembly and pre-flight testing, as well as advanced avionics and flight systems. In addition, the flights have returned a great deal of data about the physical conditions of hypersonic flight itself.

HIFiRE began in 2006 and is a joint effort by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group and the US Air Force Research Laboratory, with Boeing and UQ providing technical expertise. Previous test flights were conducted from the US Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii and further tests are scheduled to continue over the next two years.

"The success of this test launch takes us one step closer to the realization of hypersonic flight," says Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinsky. "It is a game-changing technology identified in the 2016 Defence White Paper and could revolutionise global air travel, providing cost-effective access to space."

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